on 27 June 2013
It's difficult to see who this book is aimed at. I really enjoyed it and learnt a great deal, but then I've completed 3 years of undergraduate education in physics. Perhaps it would be best for a 1st year university level physicist, one who's completed a couple of courses in calculus, or perhaps a brave A-Level student.
I've deducted a star though, because the book is rife with errors. Just have a look at the errata at madscitech.org, it's huge. Spelling mistakes are fine but errors in equations can really lead you astray.
on 16 January 2014
If you've tried to watch Leonard Susskind's on-line lectures you will know its really difficult to follow along without his notes. Of course it all makes sense as he says it. But he writes on a succession of boards and then refers back. At that point, without the notes you can become lost.
I thought this book would be a proxy for the notes but one that can be read independently. And it is, and it has the material. The problem to watch out for is that an issue is laid out and the foundations prepared then an equation will appear which is supposed to explain everything but it doesn't. It's a step too far. It's like there's a missing link. So in this sense it is frustrating because then its necessary to go to another book or web site to find the connection.
It also presents problems but the solutions are not in the book. They are on-line in a PDF which you have to download and print out separately. Why?
This could be a great book. After some revisions it may well be but not at the moment. It's written by someone who is good at Physics, for whom this all makes sense. I think George is not able to see when the leaps he makes, which are just common sense to him, are a challenge for the person trying to gain that sense.
on 17 March 2013
Having an undergraduate background in maths from 45 years ago I was very pleased with the way the book reminded me and updated my understanding of the subject but, and it's a big but, the formulae have been reproduced at such a small size that for example the dot representing a time derivative is a single pixel. This and all the formulae cannot be easily read except in a very good light or by using the back light at maximum. (To forestall some obvious remarks, my eyesight is quite a lot better than standard and has been recently tested.) Some of the material requires concentration and puzzling over exactly which symbol has been used is a considerable distraction. Enlarging the font makes no difference, presumably because the formulae have been reproduced as images. I have not found any which could not have been reproduced at twice the size without upsetting the page layout. This is such a problem that I was tempted to assign two stars.
on 10 May 2014
A PhD in Applied mathematics and a distinction in my chemistry degree for my quantum mechanics paper did not enable me to follow clearly the derivation of the least action principle, why it was relevant (other than an assertion that it was) and how Lagrange's equation was derived. Even knowing how to do it myself did not enable me to follow the reasoning employed on pages 112 and 113. A simple series of steps, explaining the underlying mathematics aids reasoning and insight like nothing else. Give it a try guys, your book sales will go stellar.
This last aspect (of Lagrangian mechanics) is crucial for understanding how Newtonian mechanics works and the derivation of the equation jumps in first and starts. I would not recommend this book for the novice to Lagrangian mechanics (which really is quite simple if well explained).
on 23 September 2014
What a rip-off. I ordered this Basic Books version at the same time as I ordered "The Theoretical Minimum: Classical Mechanics" (Penguin). After browsing through the physics book, I thought that it was more a mechanics book than a physics book. I then had a look at the Classical Mechanics book and it looked very similar to the physics book. They are the same books, but retitled and issued by different publishers. The preface of the physics book even contains the line "Welcome, then, to The Theoretical Minimum - Classical Mechanics".
The books themselves, including the Quantum Mechanics book, look quite good at first glance, but it's a one start rating for the re-naming of the book.
on 15 March 2014
This book is, for me, almost unreadable on the Kindle Fire HDX because the illustrations and equations are tiny and do not scale with the text..
On my old iPad 2 the two Kindle books I own that show this problem look absolutely fine.
The other affected book is "A Most Incomprehensible Thing: Notes Towards a Very Gentle Introduction to the Mathematics of Relativity".
The same issue seems to occur on the Kindle Paperwhite. (From other reviews read). Obviously publishers will blame Amazon who, in turn, will blame publishers. But I think on balance the Kindle software should be able to cope with all common formats. I understand the problem is to do with use of GIF files in the text.
on 27 February 2013
Not an easy read, but it does what it says on the tin. It would help if you have been exposed to calculus, but it isn’t essential. I suppose it is the next step after reading popular texts on physics. It isn’t filled with “awe and wonder” like popular reads but it does give the reader an insight into what physicists do. I look forward to other volumes, especially when he tackles quantum physics.
on 26 January 2014
This is a fantastic exposition of classical mechanics, starting with the basics of newtons laws it reformulates the equations several times in terms of Lagrangians, Hamiltonians and Poisson Brackets using actual maths instead of handwaving, which makes it somewhat unique for a popular science book. It also explains the concept of symmetry and Noether's theorem. It is, basically, exactly the book you need if you did A level physics but didn't study further. It mentions a second volume, which will cover quantum mechanics, I am hoping it comes out sooner rather than later.
on 2 November 2013
The book begins with a simple explanation of spaces of states and systems, laying the groundwork for understanding basic concepts in physics. The opening chapter, called "The Nature of Classical Physics" takes us behind the scenes, to a law that governs neither matter nor energy but information - namely, the law of conservation of information.
From the next chapter, the book turns more mathematical. The nice thing is that the basic vector analysis, trigonometry and calculus needed for physics are introduced. However, although the book aims to help readers who are prepared to do more math than what most of the currently available body of popular physics literature involves, it may have gone too far and used much more math than required to explain physical concepts, and in the process lost some of the clarity one expects from science books.
There is also some confusion in the notations used in the book that may throw the uninitiated reader off-track. The subscript "i" is at first associated with the x, y, and z coordinates of a single particle. For example on page 39: "The three coordinates x, y, z are collectively denoted by x_i..." Later on, however, the same subscript "i" is used to identify a particle amongst several particles, rather than the coordinates. For example on page 87: "In this set of equations.....the force on the `i th' particle..." On page 91 the confusion is even greater since the two different meanings of "i" are used one after the other on the same page. On that page the equation for momentum of the "i th" particle is "p_i = m_i v_i", while the phase space is given by "x_i, p_i" where "i" refers to the x, y, z coordinates of a single particle.
Perhaps the book could have chosen to focus the mathematics on fewer things rather than apply it to a wide range of situations making the notations more complicated and confusing.
In comparison, Richard Feynman, known for The Feynman Lectures, uses vivid imagery and provides physical intuition to take his physics undergraduate student audience deep into the theoretical foundations of heat, energy, momentum and even quantum mechanical concepts. He uses mathematics to supplement his explanations, rather than as the basis of the arguments.
More recently, Brian Greene, Stephen Weinberg, Lawrence Krauss and others have written about the latest frontiers in physics for general audiences. What this book aims to do differently, is to include enough math to probe more deeply into the subject. As a concept, is is fair enough. But the execution leaves this reader wondering if it has indeed delivered on its promise, and more fundamentally, whether it could have done more with less.
For students or for teachers?
I had all but concluded that this book would be more useful for physicists and those eager to use the book to help them teach physics, rather than readers seeking to learn physics -- until I found the lectures. Video recordings of the lectures from Professor Susskind's course are available on this website: [...]
What you can understand from a live presentation is somewhat more and somewhat less than from a book that you read on your own. Each chapter of the book opens with a casual snippet of conversation between the co-authors, sometimes including a joke, which gave this reader the feeling that you had to be there.
In combination with the online lectures, The Theoretical Minimum provides the student who is proficient in algebra, trigonometry and calculus a thorough introduction to theoretical physics. Homeschoolers and other independent students looking for a path to approach theoretical physics may also wish to look at the guide that Gerard t'Hooft has published on his website: [...] Starting from basic mathematics it contains links to material that will help you learn what you need to know at each step of way towards theoretical physics. Though there may in many cases be better resources for learning the specific material on his outline, the very existence of the outline inspires confidence that we can work our way along the path. And The Theoretical Minimum, both the book and the lectures, are worthwhile stops along the way.